Elizabeth Donnelly

Elizabeth Donnelly (or Donley) married Ralph Maxwell in 1823. They were both born in Ireland, but they married in England and most of their children were born in Scotland. They had six. A son died either before or slightly after his first birthday.

They moved around some: from a farm six miles outside of Lanark, Scotland, and then into Lanark itself, where the boys were weavers and worked in the textile mills.

In 1844, the family became members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One of Elizabeth’s daughters was baptized first, and then the rest of the family soon followed.

The moved briefly to Bristol, England, and then back to Scotland, this time to Glasgow. They were members of the congregation there from 1852 to 1856. Ralph Maxwell died there.

In 1854, one of Elizabeth’s sons, John, went to America.

Two years later, she prepared herself and the rest of the family (including Elizabeth’s 4-year-old niece, who was also Elizabeth, Elizabeth Durrah. Elizabeth Durrah’s mother Jane had died shortly after she was born) to go to America, specifically to join the Saints in Utah. They used money from the Perpetual Emigration Fund for the trip. In March 1856, they got on the ship Enoch Train, and while on that ship, Elizabeth saw the marriage of her oldest son, Arthur, to another Elizabeth, Elizabeth McAuslin.

They went by train to Iowa City, and then they went with the Daniel McArthur handcart company to cross the plains to Utah.

Elizabeth, who was 52, became sick and stayed at Fort Bridger until she was well enough to continue.

Her family went onward, and her sons started building her a house.

Either next year or a few months later (my accounts conflict), she came the rest of the way. Her son John, went to meet the company before they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.

But when he got there, he learned his mother had passed away the day before. She died and was buried in a cave at the head of Echo Canyon. She was in Utah, about 30 miles away as a bird flies (though she probably would have travel led around 50 more miles) from Salt Lake. The distance from Scotland to Salt Lake is roughly 4, 575 miles. She had traveled 99% of the way. So close, but she didn’t make it back to her family.

Her youngest child, Ann, was around 13 at the time. The rest ranged in ages from 19-32.  Elizabeth Durrah, her neice, was taken care of by her oldest son Arthur.

It’s a tragic story–and yet, not so tragic. Her husband had died and she got to join him again. She only saw the death of her one of her children. And most of all, she had something she believed in enough to sacrifice her life for.

If only she could have held on another few days–but she died heading to Zion. And I think it’s better to die 30 miles away from Zion than dying without knowing who you are and where you’re going in the first place.

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